A mega-grocery company's backsliding after getting public benefits brought unity between workers, the community and local officials that forged a favorable outcome in a struggle with the hedge-fund mentality.
/By Kurt Stand/ On January 21, members of Teamsters Local 639 and Local 731 voted to ratify a new contract for the nearly 1000 workers employed at Safeway Distribution centers in Upper Marlboro and Landover, Md. The union had to make some wage and benefit concessions, but preserved the job of every worker threatened by a permanent layoff. It was the culmination of a successful campaign that began in October when those workers were given notice that the warehouses were going to be shut down, with the work transferred to non-union facilities in Pennsylvania. Union unity, amongst Teamster members, from the Metro Washington Labor Council and its affiliated unions, and broad community support were the reasons why the jobs were won.
Moreover, local elected officials in Prince George’s County and state-wide in Maryland were upfront and vocal in support of the workers. There was a great deal of anger, because Safeway had been given tax breaks by the county to build new state-of-the-art facilities to keep local jobs – facilities and jobs threatened with abandonment.
That, of course, is the problem now experienced in Washington DC where Walmart, after receiving preferential treatment in order to enter the city, then decided not to open stores in the neighborhoods were jobs are most needed. What is at issue here isn’t one particular company, but a model of business. The conflict in Prince George’s began because Safeway had entered into a business relationship with C&S Wholesale Distributors, a huge private corporation that has a history of union-busting, shutting down organized workplaces and shifting work to their non-union center in Pennsylvania. In 2011, 1,000 organized warehouse workers lost their jobs in New Jersey when C&S shut down A&P operations in the area. A&P and other regional supermarket chains have filed lawsuits against C&S because of their monopolistic practices, which have led to business shutdowns. It is a model that respects neither workers nor communities, a model that drives local businesses out of business – symptomatic of the drift of our entire economic system.
The victory just won gains extra importance because it resulted in Safeway taking back control of its warehouses from C&S in exchange for financial incentives from state and municipal leaders. The six-year agreement signed with the Teamster locals guarantees no outsourcing during the length of the contract.
Nonetheless, vigilance is still needed – the layoffs likely would never have been proposed in the first place had Cerberus Capital Management not purchased controlling interest in the retailer along with other grocery food chains. Symptomatic of the entire drift of neo-liberal economics, Cerberus is a hedge fund that makes money by closing thriving, profitable, companies, and reinvesting the money elsewhere to reap even bigger financial rewards. This parasitic model of corporate behavior is very much in line with the deregulation of banks, a model of the economy in which corporate profits and the production of goods and services have largely been severed.
Yet the preservation of the jobs shows that workers can fight back to preserve their jobs and their rights. In the words of Teamster Local 730 President Ritchie Brooks: “The key to our victory was that everyone banded together. Labor, political leaders and the community all came together to show Safeway our solidarity.”
http://www.dclabor.org/union-city-news: 1/22/16, 1/20/16, 11/13/15, 10/18/15
Teamster Website: “Teamsters, Elected Officials, Community Leaders Tell Safeway To Keep Jobs In Maryland’ 10/16/15